3 Things I Learned from Retail that Made Me a Successful Salesforce Admin with Ciara Skiles

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This week on the Salesforce Admins Podcast, we talk to Ciara Skiles, a Senior Consultant and Business Analyst at Cirrius Solutions Inc. We learn how her experience in retail translated into a career in Salesforce.

Join us as we talk about how a career in retail taught her to break down barriers and communicate successfully, why it’s so important to be genuinely interested in the person and the result, and how your community and friends can support you in your career.

You should subscribe for the full episode, but here are a few takeaways from our conversation with Ciara Skiles.

Jumping from retail to a career in Salesforce.

Just like Mike, Ciara has a background in retail. “When I was in college I did what most college students do, I worked a typical retail job,” she says, and since she had already been promoted into a supervisory role she decided to give it a go after graduation. That lead to a ten-year career specializing in workforce management and operations. “I was a go-to resource in my community to help struggling stores,” Ciara says.

In 2012 Ciara met her husband, an active duty service member in the Navy, which lead to a lot of moving around. They’ve lived in Charleston, SC, Newport, RI, Jacksonville, FL, as well as time abroad in Spain and Japan. In Japan, she attended a Hiring Our Heroes event where she heard about the Salesforce Military program. She quickly got her certifications and took a job as a Senior Consultant and Business Analyst at Cirrius Solutions Inc where she’s been working since late October.

The skills Ciara learned that translate across careers.

“When I found out about Salesforce Military, I was almost turned off by it,” Ciara says, “but when I did more research I found out that Trailhead is actually geared towards people who don’t necessarily have a tech background.” It also turns out that retail is a great training ground that translates into any number of careers. From managing personalities including training people who are working their first job to retirees with advanced degrees who are just trying to get out of the house a couple of days a week, Ciara’s seen it all.

“One commonality that I saw across the board is that you really need to figure out how to break down barriers and build trust quickly,” Ciara says, “and I think the key to success for me was that I always went into it with a genuine interest in the person and their end result.” That involves talking to a lot of customers and figuring out how to get them what they really want. “When you’re dealing with stakeholders who may have a broken process who come to you for help, a lot times they feel really insecure and unsure of how to proceed which puts them totally off-kilter,” she says, “I always try to very clearly communicate that I’m on your side, that I’m here to make your job easier, that your success is my passion.”

The amazing community that supported Ciara’s journey.

Thinking outside of the box is a big part of Ciara’s toolkit. “I’ve always been a natural problem solver, so if I see a friction point I want to do what I can to alleviate it,” she says, “which is what I think made me a really successful retail manager.” It’s the same with consulting—identify the big pain points and solve those first, then clean up the small issues later. There’s no template, however, so you need to coordinate with different departments to make sure everything is in alignment.

Through her entire Salesforce journey, Ciara has been able to rely on the support of a strong community of military spouses. “If you have a problem that you need to fix, call a group of military spouses,” she says, “give them twenty minutes and you will have five viable solutions with plans and Powerpoints and spreadsheets and all of the tools and resources you would ever need to make it happen.” Those skills translate directly into a career in Salesforce, and Ciara is proof that you don’t need a tech degree to make it happen. As she says, “my other life experience has been what has made me so successful in my current role.”

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Full Show Transcript

Mike Gerholdt:
Welcome to the Salesforce Admins Podcast where we talk product, community, and careers, to help you become an awesome admin. I’m Mike Gerholdt, and joining me today is Ciara Skiles, to talk about the things she learned from retail that made her a successful Salesforce admin. And I will say there is a little bit of retail therapy in this, having both of us been in the retail industry for a while. With that, let’s get Ciara on the podcast.

Mike Gerholdt:
Ciara, welcome to the podcast.

Ciara Skiles:
Thank you so much for having me, Mike. I’m excited to be here.

Mike Gerholdt:
I’m excited to have a fellow retail associate on one of my podcasts, let me tell you.

Ciara Skiles:
Oh yeah. Battle buddies for life, once you’ve been in retail.

Mike Gerholdt:
Exactly. There’s a kinship among us. If you’ve been in retail and you’re in Salesforce, we all share a bond now.

Ciara Skiles:
Oh yeah, absolutely.

Mike Gerholdt:
I don’t want to bury the lead. But let’s start off with your journey to Salesforce because we know now it includes retail. Spoiler alert.

Ciara Skiles:
Spoiler alert. Yeah, when I was in college, I did what most college students do, I worked a typical retail job. I was working for Ann Taylor. And when I graduated it was the height of the recession so I decided that, I was pretty good at it. I had already been promoted into a supervisory role, so I should give it a go. That led to a 10 year career, where I worked for brands like Saks, Victoria’s Secret. I did a short stint with The Perfume Company, and I specialized in workforce management and operations. I was kind of like a go-to resource in my community to help struggling stores, which was actually really rewarding. A lot of people go, “Oh, that doesn’t sound fun.” I’m like, “It’s not for the first couple of months, but once you get it going the way that you want it to, it’s really actually pretty incredible.”

Ciara Skiles:
I really loved retail. But in back in 2012, I met my husband who is active duty in the Navy. And since then, we met in Charleston, South Carolina, and then we moved to Newport, Rhode Island. We shortly thereafter went to Jacksonville, Florida. From there, we went and did about a year in Rota, Spain. And then from there we did two years in Japan, where we were most recently. Last year in May, actually made the move back to Charleston where it all began. When we were in Japan, I actually attended a Hiring Our Heroes event where Chuck Hodges, who put on, who I’m I jokingly say is the biggest Salesforce evangelist without actually working for Salesforce.

Ciara Skiles:
He told me about the program, I did some research and it looked absolutely amazing. I had the conversation with my husband, do I want to continue in retail even though it’s geographically flexible or do I want to kind of make the leap into the tech space using this Salesforce military program? And that was kind of the route that we went. I started in June, I got my first certification in August, and then I got hired on as a senior consultant for a company called Sirius Solutions where I primarily operate as a business analyst, and that happened in late October.

Mike Gerholdt:
Wow. Well, first off, let me say, be sure to thank your husband for his service and thank you for being there. I think it’s very, very special people that serve our military. I know, having worked in retail as well, I’ve hired a few individuals that came out of the service and wow, were they just spectacular on the job.

Ciara Skiles:
Yeah.

Mike Gerholdt:
Just spectacular.

Ciara Skiles:
He’s a pretty great guy. I’ll keep him.

Mike Gerholdt:
Good, good. And we can definitely trade stories over retail. I encourage anybody, if they want retail therapy, they can always reach out to me on Twitter. And now they can reach out to you too.

Ciara Skiles:
Oh yeah.

Mike Gerholdt:
And we can talk about the Black Friday dressing rooms.

Ciara Skiles:
Oh, man.

Mike Gerholdt:
Or just little pet peeves that we have.

Ciara Skiles:
I’m triggered Mike.

Mike Gerholdt:
I know. Thinking back to those, “Okay, who wants to do dressing rooms?” What did I do to deserve dressing rooms?

Ciara Skiles:
Who’s being punished that day? Send them to the back, send them to the fitting rooms.

Mike Gerholdt:
Oh, if you were late on Black Friday, you were doing dressing rooms perpetually.

Ciara Skiles:
Yeah, just didn’t know.

Mike Gerholdt:
No.

Ciara Skiles:
That’s just where you lived your entire shift.

Mike Gerholdt:
But I mean, there came a point in my retail career and I think I realized it as well, and probably you did, there’s a lot of skillset that individuals have, even if they’re in a certain career path that translate over into other career paths. And in our call that we had before this, I think we really kind of realized, wow, there’s a lot of transferable skills that the individuals have and that you found in yourself going from retail to Salesforce. I’d love to touch on those because I think there’s individuals that are looking for, perhaps a different career path. I know I did at a certain point, I really just got burned out of missing out on holidays and having to do an eight week schedule over Halloween and think about Christmas.

Ciara Skiles:
Oh friend, yes.

Mike Gerholdt:
I want to buy a Halloween mask, but I have to think about the week before Christmas.

Ciara Skiles:
The insanity that is the holidays. I’ll tell you what. But yeah, absolutely. I’ll preface with, I was not a tech person. When I found out about Salesforce Military, I was almost turned off by it. He promised like, you can work remotely and you can make great money and if you go into tech. And I was like, well, I don’t have a computer science degree. I have a basic knowledge of Microsoft Office at this point. I kind of almost tuned him out. And when I did more research, I found out that Trailhead is actually geared towards people who don’t necessarily have tech background, which was really attractive to me. At that point, the training was in place for someone who didn’t necessarily have all of the technical background, that maybe a previous developer did, but I really wanted to focus on what I was good at. What would I bring to the table? Especially in preparing for interviews.

Ciara Skiles:
Some of the things that I realized I did particularly well were managing personalities. So for example, you can imagine being a retail manager, I had employees who were babies, they were kids. It was their first job. I mean, I had to teach somebody how to Swiffer once. That was the level of starting.

Mike Gerholdt:
You had Swiffers? You had petty cash for Swiffers?

Ciara Skiles:
Oh yeah, we were [inaudible 00:00:07:34].

Mike Gerholdt:
Oh, I had to buy the generic kind, I worked in the wrong retail stores.

Ciara Skiles:
Yeah, but we blew the budget on Swiffers. We didn’t have enough for a scraper to get the gum off the floor. Always had to use a gift card for that.

Mike Gerholdt:
Oh yeah.

Ciara Skiles:
I had to teach a kid how to Swiffer all the way up to, I have women that worked for me that had advanced degrees and were retired, and just worked retail to get out of the house a few days of the week, to save their sanity. Totally a wide range of personalities, experience levels. And it was the same with shoppers. I was a Pink manager for Victoria’s Secret. I had kids coming in to buy their lip gloss or sweatshirts, and they were 15. That’s obviously a very different client than an executive coming in to buy suiting at Ann Taylor or Saks. One commonality that I saw across the board is that you really have to figure out how to break down barriers and build trust quickly. Whether it’s an associate who needs to communicate their scheduling concerns or training gaps, so that I can help make them successful.

Ciara Skiles:
Or a client walking in saying that they don’t need help, but they clearly are racing towards a particular item and are on a mission. Whether they knew it or not, I always went into those conversations with like, I know you think you’re not going to tell me what you need, but you’re going to, whether you like it or not. And I think the key to success for me was, that I always kind of went into it with a genuine interest in the person and their end result. There is nothing superficial about the requests for information. I always, whether it was with my body language or my phrasing or tone, I always came across as genuinely wanting to help them. I think that was something that was really, really helpful.

Mike Gerholdt:
I think you’re right. Listening to you, I think back to when I worked in a men’s store. And I had a mother and her son come in because he needed a very special, and we did tailored shirts, I should say, and he needed a very special shirt and tie combo. And it was, for them, the most important thing they were doing that day. As opposed to, and we have business people that came in all the time to get measured. And it was one of 50 or a hundred different shirts he was buying. But for them, it was very important that that thing happened and happened right. And then I fast forward to the few months that I was in a consultant role, being on a call with the representatives of the company, getting a sales process realigned. That’s the most important thing that’s going to happen to them today.

Ciara Skiles:
100%, yeah.

Mike Gerholdt:
And so it’s like, to you it’s just another call.

Ciara Skiles:
Oh yeah.

Mike Gerholdt:
But to them, it’s the most important thing.

Ciara Skiles:
I mean, it’s their business. It’s their livelihood.

Mike Gerholdt:
Absolutely, absolutely. And I couldn’t agree more of the, you have to be genuinely interested. There are times that I feigned interest in retail, because everybody has a story they have to tell you about why they’re buying something.

Ciara Skiles:
Oh, yeah. Well, whether it’s what they’re buying. I joke that it’s the big brown eyes and long hair, that people, I’ll ask them how they’re doing and they really tell me, they tell me all the things. I’ve gotten, what’s going on in people’s marriages. I had one woman, I asked her how her day was going and for the next 20 minutes she told me about what had happened that day and how she was babysitting and how her child was sick. And my associate that was 10 feet away, circled back around, maybe half an hour later she was like,”Wow, she really needed to talk to somebody.” I was like, “Yep, and I was the one.” But it happened all the time to me. But yeah, and it’s funny, being able to connect with people and suss that information out absolutely carried over as something that has made me successful in my current role.

Ciara Skiles:
When you’re dealing with stakeholders who may have a broken process, who come to you for help, a lot of times they feel really insecure or unsure of how to proceed, which puts them totally off kilter. Especially if you’re dealing with an executive, they’re used to having all the answers. I think they really respond well to someone who genuinely is interested. And I always try to very clearly communicate, I am on your side, I’m here to make your job easier. Your success is my passion. That usually kind of helps break down any communication barriers or walls that may be up. And it helps build that trust and really allow for a free flow of communication, which has been absolutely invaluable for the projects that I’ve worked on, for sure.

Mike Gerholdt:
One of the things I think, really transferable, in retail is the ability to manage multiple instances and multiple priorities at the same time. As a fixer, I’ll call it, going into different retail stores, did you find that to be something that carried over as you moved into the Salesforce world?

Ciara Skiles:
Yeah, I have always been a creative person and a natural problem solver. If I see a friction point, I want to do what I can to alleviate it, which is what I think, it made me a really successful retail manager, especially going into stores that needed that little bit of extra TLC. And there’s no manual for that. Every situation is different. There’s no magic bullet or equation of, if you do X then Y will occur. Really being able to think outside of the box and bring some creativity to the table is essential. And I think it’s the same with consulting. No project will ever be like another. So you need to be able to look at the bigger picture and identify, what are the biggest pain points and how do I find the best way forward for those first.

Ciara Skiles:
And that really involves spinning a lot of different plates and coordinating a lot of different efforts. And then once you’ve solved those big problems, first you go after the smaller issues that remain after the fact. But to be able to do that, like I said, there’s no template, there’s no predetermined steps that ensure success so that you’re really… My thing is that you really need to be able to examine issues from different angles and make a determination of, “Okay, do I lean on past experience to solve this problem or do I need to blow up the box and come up with something completely new to fix the issue?” And a lot of times it’s not just you, you have to coordinate with different departments and make sure that different pieces of the project are all aligning and going in the same direction at the same time. I think being creative and a natural problem solver, and also a natural collaborator has been something that’s been super helpful with the success of projects, for sure.

Mike Gerholdt:
Yeah, absolutely. For other military spouses that are listening and may be struggling to find a career or make a career switch, do you have any advice or any tips for them about basically what you did?

Ciara Skiles:
Yeah. I’m going to brag on my community for a little bit.

Mike Gerholdt:
Please do.

Ciara Skiles:
I think that military spouses are absolutely incredible. I mean, one of the things that I love so much about my community is how amazing the people are that are in it. If you have a problem that you need to fix, call a group of military spouses. Give them 20 minutes and you will have five viable solutions with plans and PowerPoints and spreadsheets and all of the tools and resources that you could ever need to make it happen. It’s really, really incredible. We are a tenacious and resourceful group of folks and we can really roll with the punches. And a lot of that stems from the lifestyle that we lead. There are constant unknowns between when we’re moving next, to where, what my spouse’s job is going to be, what will my job be? What am I going to do with my pets or kids or what am I going to do about housing?

Ciara Skiles:
All of these things that we deal with allow us to kind of be forged by fire, so to speak. We’ve really gained a lot of skill sets that I don’t think that we would have otherwise, without the craziness that we deal with on a pretty regular basis. I always try to stress to spouses that, yes, this life is hard and I get that, but you got to take the good with the bad. You will be an incredible networker because you’re going to be forced to find a support system over and over again when you move to somewhere new. You’ll always be really resourceful because guess what? You may not always have access to the resources you need to get a job done easily. We’re not afraid to roll up our sleeves and make something work with what we’ve got.

Ciara Skiles:
And we’re also super community and team-oriented. We know that we don’t know what we don’t know. We’re forced to lean on our community and figure things out together, which makes us absolutely amazing teammates. Like I said, I think we are resourceful and creative, and amazing networkers, and fantastic teammates. And it’s funny because every time I talk about this and I discuss it with hiring managers, they look at me and it’s like a light bulb goes off like, “Oh, that’s the dream employee.” I’m like, yeah, it’s crazy.

Ciara Skiles:
When I talk to military spouses and I explained to them like,”Listen, you don’t need a background in tech. You just need to take an inventory of what you’re already good at and figure out how to translate those skills into the ecosystem because there is a place for you.” Salesforce has made it really easy to jump on Trailhead, figure out the platform. And there are so many opportunities out there that will fit with this crazy lifestyle that we lead. You just need to take that first step and you don’t have to go fast, you just have to go. That would probably be my best advice. Take that first step, look at yourself, recognize how amazing you are and know that you can do it. You don’t need a technical degree to be successful in Salesforce. I graduated college with a business administration degree and French and German. Totally unrelated to the tech space. But my other life experience has been what has made me so successful in my current role.

Mike Gerholdt:
Yeah, I would agree. And that 100% applies to I think more people than who I even asked the question for. It’s wonderful way of summing it up because even to people in retail.

Ciara Skiles:
Oh yeah.

Mike Gerholdt:
You have the ability to make these connections, you do all of this stuff innately, and there is so much more drive and passion in you than I think you give yourself credit for.

Ciara Skiles:
100%.

Mike Gerholdt:
I didn’t really even recognize that until I got out of retail and realized how outgoing I was and it was just in my nature. You got to greet people when they come in the store. And when you get into an office setting, you do that and it’s kind of, “Oh, well he’s very outgoing person.” I’m just used to doing that.

Ciara Skiles:
Yeah.

Mike Gerholdt:
I think you’ve really hit the nail on the head with a lot of that I’ll leave with, do you have any tips that you would love to pass along to Salesforce Admins?

Ciara Skiles:
Salesforce Admins. Never stop learning.

Mike Gerholdt:
That’s a great one.

Ciara Skiles:
And don’t be afraid to take risks. I mean, I love that working on so many different projects and nothing is the same, but it gives me the opportunity, every day, to learn something new, which I absolutely love. It’s constantly stretching my brain, which is always really interesting. And I feel like every day I have the opportunity to grow and become better. Don’t be afraid to take on something that maybe are unfamiliar with. I know it’s really easy to stay in your comfort zone, but the resources are out there for you to be successful. Take that leap, make that jump. You can totally do it. And I guarantee you that if you are struggling along the way, the ecosystem is full of really incredibly and supportive people. Reach out, you’ll find what you need to be successful, for sure.

Mike Gerholdt:
Well, I think that’s a wonderful way to put a bow on this and thank you Ciara, for being on the podcast, offering up those inspiring words, and I couldn’t agree more. I’m so glad we had this conversation. I’m so glad that I don’t have to worry about folding shirts in a certain way.

Ciara Skiles:
Oh man. Right? I’m going to send you a folding board as a thank you for having me on.

Mike Gerholdt:
I was just about to say that, although I do kind of wish I had a folding board in my house because I think once you innately get that perfect stack of shirts, and that perfect stack of sweaters.

Ciara Skiles:
You can never go back.

Mike Gerholdt:
You just look at your closet differently every single time, don’t you?

Ciara Skiles:
Oh, yeah. My stuff is color coded, perfectly folded.

Mike Gerholdt:
I’m seasonal, I can’t do colors, but maybe I should do color code. I would love to. I’ve seen pictures of people on Facebook that color coded their bookshelves.

Ciara Skiles:
I haven’t gotten that far yet. I [inaudible 00:21:21].

Mike Gerholdt:
I never worked at a bookstore.

Ciara Skiles:
Exactly, I feel like we organize it with what we know. [crosstalk 00:21:30].

Mike Gerholdt:
Sweaters and shirts for me for absolutely. Well, fantastic.

Ciara Skiles:
Oh, that’s hysterical.

Mike Gerholdt:
It was great to have Ciara on the podcast. And here are three things that I learned from our discussion with her. First is, break down barriers and communicate successfully. That was one of the key things that Ciara carried from retail over into becoming a Salesforce admin. I can completely relate to that. You often run into a variety of personalities and people that you need to communicate with. Breaking down barriers is one of those things. The second thing, the point that she brought up, being genuinely interested in the person and the result. And that second part is super important because being genuinely interested in the person and the result helps you get there, helps you focus on where you’re going, and also as you break down barriers, helps you communicate successfully. They build on themselves. And then the third thing I think as Ciara and I were talking that really resonated with me was, as she was transitioning over, she was able to lean on her community and your friends.

Mike Gerholdt:
And I think that’s very important, especially if you’re learning something new or you’re going into something unfamiliar. She talked about how she was able to really work with other military spouses and get that support from the community, the Salesforce community, and her friends as well. Three varying important points and it was great to have Ciara on the podcast. Now, if you want to learn more about all things Salesforce Admin, go to admin.salesforce.com to find more resources. And as a reminder, if you love what you hear, be sure to pop on over to iTunes and give us a review. I promise you I read them all. Now, you can stay up to date with us on social for all things admins. We are @Salesforceadmins. No “I” on Twitter and you can find me, I am @mikegerholdt. Stay tuned for the next episode and we’ll see you in the cloud.

 

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